After combining for 35 sacks last season, the Eagles' defensive ends have tallied only five through six games in 2012. What's the deal? Let's examine the state of the defensive end position in our Midseason Report ...
1. Where Are The Sacks?
Last year, the calling card of the Eagles defense was consistent pressure from the front four, especially on the outside, where Jason Babin and Trent Cole combined for 29.0 sacks on the season. This year, the pass rush has created consistent pressure, but it hasn't produced much in the way of sacks. The Eagles haven't registered a sack in their last three games, and Cole and Babin have only four sacks combined.
The main reason for the drop in sacks is that opposing offenses are formulating their gameplan on muting the pass rush. Often times, the Eagles have sent a four- or five-man rush, only to be met by seven or more blockers. While that means the sacks have dropped off considerably, the flipside is the effect that's had on the pass coverage. In 2011, when the sacks were flowing, the Eagles ranked 14th in the league with 6.6 yards allowed per pass play. In 2012, the Eagles rank sixth in the category, allowing exactly 6.0 yards per pass.
Still, Cole, Babin and crew would tell you that they need to bring down the quarterback more. Through six games last season, Babin already had 7.0 sacks, while Cole had 3.0 (injury limited him to four games through six weeks). It will be interesting to see how much different the defense looks after the bye with Todd Bowles in charge of the defense after replacing Juan Castillo. That unknown could play into the Eagles' hands early on, as the Eagles face off against the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons. Regardless, it would be a big surprise if the Eagles' sack numbers don't increase significantly after the bye.
2. How Big A Factor Can Brandon Graham Be?
After what was mostly a lost 2011 season on the heels of his torn ACL rehab, Graham has been impressive in 2012, earning more and more playing time as the season has progressed. After playing single digit snaps in each of the season's first two games, Graham has played at least 20 percent of the defense's snaps in three of the last four games. Graham has earned that bump in playing time by being the most productive defensive end, pass-rush wise, on a per-snap basis.
Graham has accounted for 13 hurries in 79 snaps this season, so he's averaging pressure every 6.1 snaps. Admittedly, Graham often has the benefit of being fresher in his snaps than the likes of Cole and Babin, but that production is still impressive. Babin has the next-best rate, averaging pressure every 12.1 snaps, followed by Cole (12.3), Darryl Tapp (19.7) and Phillip Hunt (31.0).
It only makes sense then that Graham's playing time should increase after the bye. There might even be the option of utilizing Graham, Cole and Babin together on the field at the same time as the Eagles search for more ways to get after the quarterback. Still, Graham, like the rest of the defensive ends, would like to get to the quarterback just a little bit quicker as he hoped to improve on his 0.5 sack total through six games.
3. When Will We See Vinny Curry?
The second of two second-round picks by the Eagles in April's NFL Draft, Curry has been inactive for each of the first six games through no fault of his own. The Eagles just can't afford to activate more than nine defensive linemen for a game, and Curry has been behind the other fix defensive ends in the team's pecking order.
But Curry could have a chance to play while the Eagles continue devising ways to aid the pass rush. Curry could get activated at the expense of Hunt, whose playing time has steadily declined through the first six games. Hunt played 23 percent of the team's snaps in the season opener, but played only one down on defense in Week 6.
The absence of playing time has been an obvious adjustment for Curry, 6-3, 266. At Marshall, Curry started every game as a sophomore, before leading the nation's defensive linemen in tackles (94) during his junior season and finally earning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors during his senior season. Perhaps, though, the lack of early-season playing time has served as fuel for when Curry does get the chance to see the field. After watching from the sideline for so long, Curry will want to make sure that once he suits up he's suiting up for good.
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